That’s my favourite quote of the day! Our guide was trying to emphasize that champagne making is a long, slow and arduous process – which it is! I took a tour of Champagne – only five of us – with Trong our guide. It was fabulous!
Oh I love champagne. And Champagne. And champagne in Champagne!
English is Trong’s FOURTH language – he speaks Vietnamese, French, Italian and English. His parents emigrated from Vietnam and he grew up here in Champagne. Btw, he describes his best vacation (and he’s been all over) to be the seven weeks he spent in the Rocky Mountains in Alberta! Trong is very passionate and knowledgeable about champagne making, the Champagne region and the history and future of France in general. He was very interesting and had tons to share.
We drove from Paris to Champagne and went to one of the ‘premiere’ villages. There are many,many regulations in Champagne and only a certain number of areas are ‘premiere’. We toured the vineyard and Trong explained that it’s not only the science of champagne making that makes it special (as that can be duplicated – hence sparkling wines) but the area itself. There is a small (5cm) layer of soil and then about 130 metres of chalk. The vines are grown in chalk and the caves are built of chalk. He dug up some for us and it’s so moist I could crumble it with my fingers.
Then we went to a small champagne producer. She is unusual as she grows her own grapes, uses only her own juices and produces and packages all her champagne herself. She has about 11 hectares of vineyards in the premiere village. She took us on a tour and explained the process of champagne making. It’s incredibly labour intensive. We then did a tasting of no less than six champagnes. Trong said this is why he feeds us breakfast! Was slightly giddy by the sixth glass! I bought one bottle of my favourite as they are so reasonable.
We totally get jacked in Canada with champagne. Firstly, what they export to North America, they won’t even drink in France. Secondly, we all get suckered by the labels. Cristal has a vineyard literally three feet from the vineyard that the champagne I was drinking was from. They are on the same slope so same quality of grape. The bottle I was drinking was 13 Euros. Yup. Same stuff.
Then we went for lunch in Reims and chatted with the group. Beef carpaccio for a starter, fennel and bass for main and ice soufflé for dessert. The ice soufflé is meringue and cream mixed with fruit and frozen – interesting but not my favourite. Espresso of course to finish!
Then a tour of Reims. In WWI, Reims was decimated. It’s surrounded by hills and the Germans basically surrounded it and bombed the crap out of it. The cathedral was left, although damaged and the foundation of the abbey but only one home remained. That’s it. One. There has been great anti-German sentiment in France but particularly Champagne for a long time. Trong explained that Champagne has not traditionally welcome tourists as they distrusted foreigners as foreigners usually razed their town historically. That’s changing now and they are actively encouraging tourism.
The Reims cathedral is stunning and about the size of Notre Dame. It is the cathedral where all the kings of France were crowned (except Napoleon and we all know what happened to him). The best part is the stained glass. After WWI (some of the original stained glass was taken out by locals and preserved during the war but many windows did not survive), some of the windows were replaced by modern stained glass representing the people strife with having their town annihilated.
Then…. Marc Chagall stained glass. They are magnificent. I will say no more except to say that if you’re in France – they are a must see…the champagne aside!
Then it was off to a large champagne producer – Taittenger. We took the tour of their caves (they have over 30 million bottles of champagne. I’m sure they won’t miss one or two?!?) which are built on top of where the abbey used to be. Their cave is also carved from the underground chalk. Back up 118 stairs (whew!) and another glass of bubbly….aaah!